Child adoption awareness up - Average of 5 adopted monthly
In times past, formal adoption of children was not a welcome idea as it was considered foreign to the culture of Ghana.
In recent times, however, awareness creation and education have led to a growing interest in adoption as a solution for childlessness by individuals and couples who desire to be parents.
Per statistics from the Department of Social Welfare (DSW), on the average, it receives from across the country about 20 applications for adoption a month.
The average number of applications that receive the courts order of adoption, which is the document that completes an adoption process, is reported to be five a month.
The Head of the Central Adoption Authority at the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MOGCSP), Stephen Tikai Dombo, in an interview with the Daily Graphic, said the numbers of adoption applications had been increasing because "Awareness on adoption is now on the increase and people are getting to know of adoption so they have interest to go through the process to adopt.
“People are patronising adoption in the country now," he emphasised.
However, completing the adoption process is not as easy as applying for it because it can take months, sometimes years, to complete the process.
What is and why adoption?
Adoption is the social, emotional and legal process in which children who will not be raised by their birth parents become full and permanent legal members of another family.
Legal adoptions permanently transfer all rights and responsibilities, along with affiliation, from the biological parents to the adoptive parents.
Those adopting are people who do not have their own biological or natural children and those who have their own biological children but love to provide care and support for children.
Aside from the two categories, Ghanaians who were resident outside the country come down to adopt their relatives or non-members of their families and take them to their places of abode to provide them with better opportunities.
Relative adoption was when an applicant adopts a family member while non-relative adoption has to do with an applicant adopting someone they have no relations whatsoever with.
Adoption law, process
Mr Dombo said in the past, everything on adoption was under Children Act of 1998, (560), however, there were some challenges with this act, so in 2016, it was amended to make way for Act 937 (2016) which provided for the establishment of the Central Adoption Authority (CAA).
The Central Adoption Authority involves three structures: the adoption board which ensured the development of policies to safeguard the best interest of the Ghanaian child, the technical committee and the adoption secretariat which oversees the day-to-day administrative work of the authority.
Under the Act, the Central Adoption Authority has the mandate to coordinate all adoptions in the country in a manner that promotes the welfare, wellbeing as well as the best interest of the child.
Anyone desirous of adopting a child must call at any of the offices of the DSW to purchase the in-country adoption application forms after which a Social Welfare officer would be detailed to visit their homes to do some home assessment of the applicant.
He said based on their observation and findings, the social welfare officer would prepare a report, the home study report, on the applicant, and that report formed part of the requirement for adoption.
Apart from the home study report, other requirements such as a marriage certificate, if it was applicable to the applicant, birth certificates which were necessary because of age cuts in adoption, livelihoods, a medical report and police clearance of the applicant to verify that they were medically fit to adopt and had no criminal record, such as child abuse.
Once these requirements are provided, the applications submitted at the regional office are then forwarded to the Central Adoption Authority where they are reviewed and a final assessment done before approval is given for the placement of adoptable children.
While the law does not permit a single man to adopt a child, a single woman can. This is simply explained away that it is due to the traditional role women have as caregivers.
Though there were many children at the various children's homes across the country, per the laws in Ghana, not every one of them could be adopted.
Children who could not be adopted included missing children, children with special disabilities and sicknesses, such as HIV and hydrocephalus, children whose mothers were serving prison terms for which reason their families had refused to take care of them and children who needed special care because they were so tender and therefore could not be taken care of at the family level.
The categories of children that are adoptable are orphans, abandoned children and children that are relinquished by their parents to the state because they have a number of children and they cannot take care of the new baby.
Age cuts for adoption in Ghana
For non-relative adoption, Mr Dombo said anybody above 50 years could not adopt and to adopt a non-relative, one was expected to be 50 years or below.
For relative adoption, he said, the applicant must be up to 65 years.
Mr Dombo said the law did not permit a single man to adopt a child. However, a single woman could and that was because, should a single man adopt a girl, for instance, there was the chance that he might end up abusing such a child sexually or otherwise.
Match-ups, bonding, clearance
At the technical committee level, matching of the adoptable child to the applicant's preferences and placement is done using two documents- the home study report from the Social Welfare officer detailed to the applicant and the child study.
When the matching is done, a child placement proposal is issued to the applicant asking whether they accept the child or not and based on their response, a letter is sent to the regional Social Welfare officer or her representative to take the applicant to a residential home to meet the adoptable child for the first time and also take the child home to stay with them for 30 days.
This 30-day period, also known as the bonding period, is to enable the applicant bond with the child.
After that bonding period, another report, known as the post placement report, is prepared by the regional Social Welfare office and sent to the CAA who then issues a clearance based on that report.
The Head of the CAA at the MOGCSP explained that clearance was a letter instructing the applicant to proceed to court to continue with the legal process to adopt the child.
He said at the court, after being satisfied with the verification process, the court gave the final order of adoption, meaning the process was complete.
"When the court issues the order of adoption, it means the adoption is complete. The applicant presents to the Central Adoption Authority a copy of the adoption order for us to write to the Births and Deaths Registry for the name of the child to be changed to the new parent’s preferred name.
“When that is done, the adoptive parent can now take the child home and the regional Social Welfare officer who came to do the home study report, will monitor you for the next five years and will on a quarterly basis, report to the CAA on the progress of the child and that brings the process to an end."
Quoting the Children Amendment Act of 2016 (Act 937), Mr Dombo said at least by age 13, adopted parents were expected to disclose to the adopted child that he or she was adopted.
He explained that any delays that might occur in the process were not from the Central Adoption Authority but rather the applicants.
"If an applicant puts in some preference for a child and the child is not available on the database/register of adoptable children, definitely that request will delay,” Mr Dombo said.
Therefore, the delays were not from the authority but the applicants and they must be open to any child because “assuming you are pregnant and you give birth to any other child than what you wanted, will you reject the child,” he asked.
Though the processes seem simple and should encourage people to adopt, some persons who have adopted children told the Daily Graphic that the adoption process was frustrating and very bureaucratic.
Sharing her experience, Akua Bema (not her real name), said even though she understood that because of the legal implications the process required a lot of paperwork, the tossing around and frustrations made it very cumbersome.
“It takes a lot of patience to endure what one goes through, else you will give up without achieving the aim. The delays and being tossed back and forth. Having to make payments with receipts to cover only a fraction of the payments,” she said.
Ms Bema said it had been six years when together with her husband, she began the process and they were still going through but they were nowhere near the end.
She added that the child being adopted was even not from a residential home but that of her cousin who died during childbirth.
“Because I was close to her, my husband and I decided to adopt the baby as the father had also died in a car accident. Sometimes, we want to leave things as they are, but for the sake of documentation and protecting the child, we are still waiting to see the end of this process,” Ms Bema said.
She also recounted meeting a number of couples who had also raised similar concerns about the adoption process.
“It is not friendly and encouraging; the people at the Department of Social Welfare make it look as if they are doing you a favour,” the potential foster mother said.
Child’s best interest
Responding to concerns that the process was cumbersome, Mr Dombo explained that unlike a marriage contract where people could walk away, adoption was permanent and so it was important that all the due diligence was done for the best interest of the child.
"So if the long period will help the child, we will work to ensure that the best interest of the child is protected and insured."
He said although the process for adoption for both forms was the same, often the process was faster with relative adoption because with that, the child was already there and most of the processes were already taken care of, so it could take about two months for the court to issue the order of adoption in that process.
On the other hand, he said for the non-relative adoption, the CAA would have to find a child within the register of adoptable children and match them with the applicants’ preferences, explaining that “the duration for this was dependent on applicants’ preferences.
"If an applicant put in some preference for a child and the child is not available on the database register of adoptable children, definitely that request will delay.
“The delays are not from us, but the applicants because of their preferences,” Mr Dombo emphasised.
Change of mind
The MOGCSP Head of the CAA said there had been instances where after the whole process of adoption had been completed, applicants came back citing various reasons including bad and strange behaviours from the adopted child as reasons why they no longer wanted that particular child.
He clarified that in those cases they could not accept the children back because by law, once the court had issued the order of adoption, the applicant could not return the child.
"Assuming that it was your own biological child behaving in a way you don't like, what would you do? So whatever interventions you would use to make sure that your biological child changes their behaviour, you should use same for the adopted child," he advised.